Dashboard cameras have become increasingly popular with police departments, and now they are also being installed in commercial fleets because of their numerous benefits. The main reason companies are considering the installation of cameras is because they can help to control rising insurance costs by providing useful information about accidents, hit-and-runs, insurance fraud, traffic violations and driving habits.
With improved technology that is easy to install, it is now possible for companies to protect their entire fleet. Fleet owners have the ability to monitor the activity of every one of their vehicles and drivers.
Various types of dashboard cameras are available, starting from a basic video camera to some that provide additional information such as GPS coordinates, date/time, speed and other information. In fact, some cameras can also be coupled with other onboard technologies, such as recorders and telemetrics. They are easy to install, simple to operate and inexpensive; many cost less than a new tire. Cameras will begin recording when the vehicle’s engine starts and will continue to operate as long as the vehicle is running. In addition, many of the cameras can be set to record when the vehicle is off or automatically turn on if there is motion in or around the vehicle — a feature that could add a little extra security. In addition, cameras use SD cards and have the ability to transfer data manually or automatically to the fleet or safety manager’s computer for review.
In Europe, some insurance companies offer a discount to drivers that use cameras. At this time, U.S. insurance companies do not offer discounts; however, they may be on the horizon. Even though your rates may not be discounted, the use of cameras should help you control insurance costs.
Accidents Don’t Just Happen
Accidents happen quickly, and sometimes it is difficult for a driver to recall the actual chain of events that led up to them — especially if he or she is injured or shook up. Statements about the accident are never the same. And, of course, no one wants to admit fault. Dash cams simply record the facts and their data may help a driver avoid charges, reduce a charge or reveal information that may be useful in court. Even if it does not go his or her way, dash cams record the true story so justice can be served and hopefully your driver will not be unfairly blamed.
Insurance fraud is very common. Commercial and high-end vehicles are often the targets of “crash-for-cash” scams, because their owners undoubtedly have deep pockets and insurance. In some situations, the fraudulent driver may try to extort cash from your driver in return for not reporting the incident. If this happens to one of your drivers, both the company and the driver will have undisputable video evidence to prove the driver’s innocence.
An Objective Witness
Sometimes drivers are stopped for a traffic violation they did not commit or ticketed for doing something they did not do. This is especially true at intersections where traffic cams are installed, and they don’t take into consideration extenuating circumstances such as traffic stopping or slowing as a vehicle enters an intersection. Having a dash cam can help a driver prevent unfounded traffic violations and help to prove his or her innocence when ticketed, which could affect the company’s insurance rates and the driver’s record.
Driver Reviews and Education
Drivers can review their daily driving footage to become better drivers. Fleet and safety managers can use the recordings to educate the driver about his or her driving habits. For example, after watching some of the recordings the driver or fleet manager may realize that the driver has a tendency to tailgate, drive too fast for conditions or abruptly change lanes without realizing it. Installing a camera in a vehicle may not improve individual driving skills, but will often help to make the driver more conscious of how he or she is driving.
Cameras with dual lenses can be used to record inside the vehicle if a fleet manager feels it is necessary to ensure that drivers are following company policies and other information about the driver’s actions and behavior. For example, is the driver using a cell phone, texting or becoming distracted while driving? Is he or she polite and courteous to other drivers or angry and aggressive? All this type of information can be valuable when trying to find out why a driver has multiple accidents or whether or not a driver has to be relieved of company driving privileges.
Out of Sight
When you allow your drivers to take their vehicles home at night, you’re permitting them to use the vehicles for personal use. Without a dash camera or GPS tracking device installed, you have no idea how others are treating your property. Once it’s out of your sight, what really goes on? Having a dash camera installed enables you to see (and sometimes hear) exactly what happens after hours. Viewing the camera footage will enable fleet managers to know exactly where the vehicle was and how it was treated. If the dash camera has built-in GPS, managers will also be able to see the route that was driven, how fast the vehicle was traveling and where it was parked.
It is important to check state laws regarding privacy issues. However, state laws generally say that dash cams are legal. Just be sure not to infringe on people’s privacy. There’s no reasonable expectation of privacy while in public, therefore videotaping while driving on public roads is acceptable. In fact, it could be of help to a police officer’s investigation even if your vehicle was not involved.
Video aside, if your unit records audio in the vehicle, drivers should know about it and alert passengers that the system is recording audio at the beginning of a trip. Another important legal issue is the fact that most of the cameras are mounted on the windshield and could be considered an obstruction, so check local and state laws regarding this issue.
Vehicle dashboard cameras are small, cost-effective video cameras that companies install in their vehicles to protect both the company and driver in the case of an accident. They offer safe, reliable drivers the peace of mind that if they are involved in an incident on the road, they will have a detailed record of precisely what happened. Dashboard cameras will not prevent an accident, but can provide preserved video evidence and other useful information to help prove who was at fault.
George Kennedy is NUCA’s Vice President of Safety.